The morning (afternoon?) after the big Tuesday night beach rave in Araial d’Ajuda, Peder and I finally made it out of the city in which we’d originally planned to spend a single night.
First it was a bus and ferry ride across a small river to Porto Seguro, the main transportation hub in the area. Then it was fifteen minutes or so of searching for a taxi driver willing to take us to the main bus station by meter. All refused, insisting on a fixed-price for the five minute ride. The price was about as much as it normally costs to drive for thirty. White skin => cash cows. But we bite the bullet once again and pay the obligatory “tourist tax.”
We arrive in good time, stopping for a brief coxinha and Gatorade, my on-the-run emergency meal of choice before boarding the bus to Belo Horizonte.
We also fend off a maniacal woman with an open shirt, dark sunglasses, and lipstick all over her face. Much to the amusement of the others around. Apparently even the locals thought she was insane, as indicated by their outburst of laughter the instant she disappeared around the corner. I got a video of her insane mutterings on my cell phone. I’m anxious to find out what she was saying.
And at long last we were on our way out of the state of Bahia where we’d been ever since leaving Rio more than two weeks earlier. Our destination: the inland state of Minas Gerais, renowned for its picturesque colonial mining towns.
According to Wikipedia, they produce a lot of milk there, too.
We start the ride by watching Transformers on my cell phone. Man, what a great investment that little piece of electronics turned out to be. I was a bit hesitant to spend so much on a phone at first, but after putting a good week into software and firmware modifications and really breaking it in during this trip, I’m nothing but satisfied with the investment. The ability to watch movies while in transit, to write blog articles without having to boot up a laptop, to play mp3s in our room while getting ready to go out, to check how far into a cross-country bus ride we are via GPS, to instantly scan for wifi networks and download email…just priceless.
And it even makes phone calls.
Once the movie ended and we decided to get some shuteye, the ride became just a little bit unpleasant. It was dark out so we couldn’t see much scenery, and although the seats were as spacious and comfortable as any, the bus was turning so frequently and sharply that it was absolutely impossible to sleep. I’d just start to doze off and the driver would jerk the wheel to one side, veering to avoid a giant pothole and smashing my head against the window in the process. I’d start to doze off again and the paved road would suddenly end, bouncing me out of my seat and halfway into the aisle as the bus continued to travel along an unmaintained dirt road. Then when I finally did manage to doze off, I’d realize that we’d in fact stopped moving entirely – we’d stopped at a truck stop for a brief meal. Having no idea how long it would be until the next opportunity to stretch my legs I jumped out just for a moment, filling my body with a small bit of fuel.
Coxinhas and Gatorade.
Then I popped my head outside to see the bus doors closing and the driver putting his vehicle into gear. In Brazil there are no head-counts, no “we have to wait for the last customer before departing.” You watch out for yourself. And if you don’t, you get left behind.
It’s all just part of the adventure.
I’m not even sure what time it was when we arrived in Belo Horizonte, the largest city and main transportation hub for the state of Minas Gerais. Not because I was so tired, but because it was already three weeks ago and I didn’t write it in my blog notes 😛
After verifying the bus schedule for Ouro Preto, our final destination, Peder and I agreed that this would probably be my last chance to replace my retired Canon Powershot before leaving Brazil. From here on out it would be small towns right through to the end. I secured a map to the city’s nearest shopping mall, and with our huge backpacks we started out into the city. It was the first big city we’d been to since Salvador.
I cannot impress upon you enough how much better I like Brazil’s small towns than its big cities. With the single exception of the Santa Antonio bus station, I can’t think of one time when I felt even slightly uncomfortable since leaving Salvador. Not once did I feel at risk of being mugged, or like I’d wandered into an area where I shouldn’t be. Not once did I feel like someone was looking at me to size me up for a strike. Not once did I even hesitate to pull out my flashy cellphone outside of the hotel room. But back in the big cities most buildings have bars on the windows up to the third floor. Fences have barbed wire on them, and many are electrified. Graffiti covers every wall. Groups of people stop what they’re doing to glare at you. Or more specifically, at your big backpack. It’s an indescribably different vibe.
I know that Brazil has a reputation for lots of crime, and I know that my first series of entries probably didn’t do much to dispel that reputation. But after traveling here for several weeks, I’d like to revise my perspective a bit: I’ve definitely felt uncomfortable in many of the big cities, but the truth is that it’s only been big cities in which I’ve felt uncomfortable. Small town people seem to be all smiles, friendliness, and eager to help – or just hang out. If you come to Brazil, please, don’t limit your trip to the “big” spots. See the countryside as well. You won’t regret it.
Anyways, to make a long story short we found the mall, and even found my exact same camera model, but the price was more than double what I paid for it a year and a half ago in Japan. I asked the clerk if it was a mistake. It wasn’t. Um, no thanks. I guess digital cameras are more of an upper-class product than a mainstream consumer good over here, and they’re priced/taxed accordingly.
From now on I’m always traveling with two digital cameras, no question about it. Buying two in the US is still cheaper than buying one in Brazil anyways (and in many other countries, I’d imagine).
A few hours later we were in Ouro Preto.
Now, close your eyes for a minute and try to envision what the perfect colonial mountain town might look like. That’s Ouro Preto. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and with good reason. It’s just amazing. Cobbled roads winding up and down the steep mountain slopes, magnificent churches perched atop every peak, red shingled roofs filling in every valley, and not a single modern building to ruin the effect. The background: an endless sea of bright green rolling hills. I’ve seen a colonial town or two in my day, but nothing as magnificent and unspoiled as this. And to top it off, we got ourselves a room in a pousada on the top floor of the tallest building (~4 stories) right in town square, with a sprawling view of it all.
Ouro Preto is worlds apart from anywhere we’ve been yet in Brazil. But it’s certainly no less magnificent.